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Consumer confidence hits 3 1/2-year high

NEW YORK -- Americans grew more optimistic about the job market in January, sending a widely followed measure of consumer confidence to its highest level in 3 1/2 years. The report yesterday from the Conference Board showed, however, that consumers are still uneasy about the future.

The private research group said its consumer confidence index rose to 106.3, the highest since June 2002, when the reading was also 106.3. The latest measure was up from a revised 103.8 in December. Analysts had expected a reading of 105.0 in January.

A separate report from the Labor Department on employee compensation said wages and benefits paid to civilian workers rose 3.1 percent last year, the smallest amount in nine years. The department said the slowdown reflected a big drop in benefit costs -- items such as health insurance and pensions.

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